Marilyn sat with sophistication as her hair was pulled back to keep it from getting messy before her next round of competition. The year-and-a-half-old Shih Tzu hailing from Cedar Hill, Texas, along with her owner, Dan Haley, had just won the award for best of breed at the Southeast Arkansas Kennel Club Dog Show.
The annual event began Saturday and will continue Sunday at the Pine Bluff Convention Center with approximately 625 entries and more than 100 breeds participating.
Haley has been breeding Shih Tzus since 1978 and said he has so many of them he has stopped counting. Showing obvious affection for his Marilyn, Haley said the tan-and-white beauty is named after Marilyn Monroe, “for her voluptuous, full figure.”
Marilyn’s wardrobe included an assortment of gold-trimmed hair bows in bright, coordinated colors.
“I always try and match her bow color with the color of my tie or shirt,” said Haley, known for whipping up a mean top-knot in Marilyn’s long locks.
Marilyn’s win for best breed qualified her to enter the next level of competition, which for her was the toy dog group. The eight groups competing were toy, sporting, hound, terrier, working, non-sporting, herding and best in show.
Expecting the same number of entrants Sunday as Saturday, assistant show chairman Claire Peacock of the Southeast Arkansas Kennel Club said the show was going well.
“This is a good entry for this area,” Peacock said. “We have as many dogs as the show in Hot Springs, and more dogs than in Benton.”
Male and female dogs entered the show and competed in eight rings, at different levels in two disciplines — obedience, including rally obedience, and confirmation.
Obedience trials, held in the banquet hall, gave handlers the opportunity to show off their canines’ ability to follow commands such as sit, stand, trot, complete a figure eight, and display athletic prowess in a high jump and broad jump.
Confirmation trials, coined by some as the beauty pageant, were held in the main arena. There, canines earned points toward championship. Judges observed with a keen eye the canines’ teeth, physique and other physical qualities to determine which entrant best met the standard of perfection for their breed. The winner for each breed would go on to compete for best in show.
In preparation, groomers scattered throughout the arena brushed, combed, teased, trimmed, fluffed, sprayed, misted and adorned their canines’ exquisite manes.
“Some of these dogs will be going on to New York next week to compete at Westminster,” Peacock said. “That’s the big shebang that everyone watches on TV.”
Peacock said many of the dogs were already champions but were competing to further their points for the highly anticipated big day.
Four such champions belong to Kyle and Coralie James, a couple from Linden, Tenn. With two border collies and two Chesapeake Bay retrievers that traveled with them to Pine Bluff, and a kennel of 101 dogs total, the couple has won numerous awards in more than 35 years of competition. Kyle James said Oak, their 4-year-old Chesapeake Bay retriever, is a grand champion, a step above champion, and is one of the top dogs in the nation.
James said that although some people may think of show dogs as extremely pampered, when properly bred, they still function with instinctive characteristics.
“Oak is a field dog,” James said. “And he is an unbelievable duck dog.”
James said he enjoys the competitive side of the show but has another reason for competing.
“I just like people to see good dogs for what they are supposed to be,” he said.
Charles Yates of Magnolia hoped his Welch cardigan corgi would finish as a champion. He said his sheep herder previously lacked only one point receiving the distinction. Yates has competed in Pine Bluff for about eight years.
Although the event was hosted by the local kennel club , very few Arkansas dogs competed and Pine Bluff had no entrants, according to Peacock. Instead, Pine Bluff members of the club served as hosts. Peacock said she thinks it would be “tacky” to invite guests and then compete with them.
Peacock who breeds and shows Pekingese, mused in a motherly tone: “There are a lot of other shows where Pine Bluff members can compete; this is not one of them.”
However, Peacock encourages local dog owners to contact the club for training classes. For more information contact Cindy Guernsey at 870-671-4586.
The shows are held under the American Kennel Club rules and regulations. Show hours for Sunday are 6 a.m, to 8 p.m.